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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Read A Game Of Thrones

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. I read a great post yesterday on the Online magazine The Tribe about why adults ought to read more...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I read a great post yesterday on the Online magazine The Tribe about why adults ought to read more children’s books. The author argues that great children’s books share much in common with great adult books in terms of plot, character and pacing. The difference is that because the authors are aware of the fickle attention spans of their target audiences (e.g., kids), they try that much harder to reel you in.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this point of view. A year or so ago, Pamela Paul took to the pages of the New York Times to talk about the rising popularity of kidlit among adult readers.

I’m currently undergoing a variation on this theme myself:  at my 11 year-old’s urging, I’m reading the first book in George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Yeah, I know. A lot of people don’t think of this as “kid lit,” though I think it’s reasonable to describe it as cross-over fare aimed at both teens and adults.  I also know that some parents will want to haul me into social services for letting my (then ten-year old) read this stuff, especially if they’ve seen the HBO series, Game of Thrones, based on the first novel. (I haven’t.)

But for me, this is about as close as I get to children’s fiction.

Let me say up front that I’m soooo *not* your typical fantasy fiction reader. As with my taste in films, I tend towards the irrepressibly realistic (some would say dire.)

But I’m loving A Game of Thrones and here’s why  – if you haven’t already tried it – you should also give it a go:

1. It’s realistic. If you’re like me, when you hear the term “fantasy fiction” you immediately conjure up maps of countries that don’t exist, an array of dungeons and dragons and – as a wanna-be fantasy writing friend of mine put it so aptly – “animals that talk.” All of this can be found in Martin’s kingdom of Westeros. But as anyone who has read his novels knows, what makes them stand out is how utterly realistic they are. Sure there’s a demonic human being known as “the hound,” a whole lot of sword-fighting, and some kind of evil monster-like species I haven’t quite yet sussed out that doesn’t bleed. But what really pulls the reader in is the feeling that – as in the modern world: actions have consequences. As one reviewer put it in The New York Times, “When people are stabbed, they die; when kingdoms ignore debts, the bankers show up. The characters understand their world, and we understand the characters.”

2. It’s historically grounded. A lot of that realism flows from the fact that the book at times reads more like history than it does fantasy. There are literally more than a thousand characters in the series and Martin helpfully adds an appendix to the end of the first book so that you can figure out how the different clans relate to one another. The net effect is not dissimilar to reading something like Hillary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, in that you feel like you’re reading a fictional account of the internecine struggles among the factions in a real kingdom. Martin himself has allowed that he was frustrated with a lot of the post-Tolkien fantasy literature because it was so often grounded in a kind of “Disneyland Middle Ages” where they had the trappings of a class system but no sense of how it actually worked. He’s out to set the record straight.

3. It’s about growing up. One of the main reasons I started reading A Game of Thrones – other than that my son insisted that I try it – was an article about the fantasy genre in The Wall Street Journal by Lev Grossman. In it, Grossman systematically takes apart the standard biases that many (grown ups) bring to this sort of literature. One of the points Grossman makes is that fantasy – pace Harry Potter –  is often dismissed for being  about “the moment when a powerless, mundane person realizes that he or she is anything but.” Grossman accepts this characterization, but then goes on to point out that by the time we’re 35 – if not older – most of us are still figuring out who we are and what we want out of life. So why should a coming of age tale be any less resonant for adults than it is for kids? As someone who blogs about adulthood as a journey, I had to agree.

4.The violence is graphic; the sex is not. When I tell people that my 11 year-old has read the entire series, they often react with horror. So of course I had to go back and read the first book after he’d finished the first five volumes in order to know just how badly I’d screwed up as a parent. The fact is, there is tons of brutal violence described in minute detail. But is that really so much worse than your average video game (which I do, as a parent, limit)? And as for the sex, so far at least, it’s few and far between and quite muted. You pick your poison as a parent. (Can I patent that?) And I think that in this case, the superb story-telling and breadth of characters Martin introduces us to far outweighs the “bad” bits.

5. You will bond with your teen. My son is on the cusp of being a teenager, and all that entails. But right now, every morning my son asks me which chapter in of A Game of Thrones I’m on and we have a lengthy discussion. And for me, that would be worth it even if I hated the book.


Image: Fantasy Faire Unicornuus by Michelle Hyacinth via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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  1. Lisa March 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I love those books:). So does my whole family.

  2. Kristen @ Motherese March 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Grateful for your perspective on these, Delia. My husband devoured these books last summer and I’ve been hesitant to try them. Like you, I am not generally a fan of fantasy fiction, but I’m intrigued to hear you describe this series as relatively realistic. Maybe I’ll have to try them out.

    • delialloyd March 11, 2012 at 10:00 am #

      @kristen-give it a go! (hey, it’s only 1000 pages lost!!)

  3. Franny March 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    George R.R. Martin does a big breakthrough with this smoothly written, immediately engrossing, and amazingly intricate tale that keeps you hooked all the way through. Martin steps out on a limb as he writes a fantasy novel whose “good” characters are not invincible and sometimes bad things of course can and do happen. Most fantasy I’ve read involves the main characters in impossible situations that resolve themselves by dumb luck or the characters own super-human abilities. Martin goes above and beyond and writes a story that allows for inexperience in a characters fighting ability, both on the battle field and in the political arena. The protagonist does not always make the right decisions, and the good guy doesn’t always win.

    The lines between good & evil are blurred as Martin uses his really impressive command of characters to present stories from other points of view.. “Good” isn’t always good, and “Evil” isn’t always evil, quite interesting yea. Characters are given diverse personalities and therefore open up the possibility of role-reversal. It really looks like these are real people making real decisions just like in real life, anything is possible.

    If you are looking for a novel that follows a one-dimensional track and is sooo easily predictable, this is not the story for u. But on the other hand, if you want a real mature story that is filled with intricate characters and engrossing story lines that leave you guessing and begging for more, you’ve come to the right place. Hats off to this incredible author and the story that he has created.

    Have a nice day,

    • delialloyd March 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      Wow! @Franny that is quite a blurb. I think you nail it. It isn’t like most fantasy and good things happen to bad people which is, sadly, realistic. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Nate June 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Thank you for clarifying what the books are about. My fourteen year old son’s teacher recommended the series for his students. My son has read all the books, but I have not. I did not think anything of it until I mentioned to my sister that my son’s teacher recommended them. My sister was shocked and filled me in about the graphic violence. I questioned my parenting for allowing my son to read a book I knew nothing about. Thanks to your input, my guilt is lessened quite a bit. Whew!

    • delialloyd June 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

      @nate, thanks for droppping by. actually now that I’ve read the next two volumes I have had to reconsider how appropriate they were for an 11 year old to read! But for 14, I think it’s fine. And for all the sex and violence there is a ton of character development and drama. I’m hooked…

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